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Stability requires resolving the past: Reconciliation in Somalia Part 3

This is the third part in our focus series on the needs for reconciliation in Somalia. In this article, Emil Gundel, discusses three important arguments for why a deep rooted and proper reconciliation is necessary to achieve stability in Somali. Although there have been several reconciliation conferences in Somalia post-conflict history, these has all rather taken the character of being power-sharing arrangement than actual reconciliation. The deficits of these past attempts at reconciliation are also being faced by the current governments attempt at carrying out reconciliation process, as admitted by the Somali Deputy Prime Minister, Mahdi Mohamed Guled, on Monday August 14, at a meeting on the current reconciliation efforts. Amongst the elements that need attention, the Interior Minister for Federal and Reconciliation Affairs, Abdi Farah Juha, highlighted the need for a focus om marginalized groups’ rights and the need for justice and fair play for those feeling their rights are infringed. In the discussion below, Emil Gundel contributes to this debate on how to deepen the needed reconciliation in Somalia.

Resolving past grievances

By Emil Gundel,

It is never easy to let go of past transgressions, and even harder to forgive them. This is true of most individuals and as such, the issue reaches into groups, communities and societies. Perhaps the most tragic consequence of victimization is that it fuels the need for revenge and further transgressions, creating a self-reproducing circle of continuous violence. Somalia is caught within such a circle, and it is hard to imagine that there can be any short term or lasting peace until the circle is broken and the people of the nation are reconciled with the trauma and injustices of the past.

Reconciliation hasn’t been a priority in the past peace processes in Somalia. Instead the focus have been on power-sharing arrangements between influential actors and groups, with the aim of creating a stable federal government. However, this power-sharing approach has not been successful in creating a stable and peaceful nation, as the continuation of conflicts and violence in Somalia suggest. Although the failures of creating peace in Somalia naturally cannot solely be connected to the lack of a reconciliation process, there are at least three major ways in which the lack of reconciliation fuels the conflict and hinders state building and stabilization.

Reconciling with Al-Shabaab

Firstly, and perhaps most concerning to most parties invested in the future of Somalia, is the fact that the absence of a reconciliation process aids the Jihadis in Harakat Al-Shabaab. The two main ways that this absence aids the Al-Shabaab is by providing them with a source of recruitment, and with a degree a legitimacy, even if that legitimacy is derived from the lack of legitimacy within the internationally recognized government.

The recruitment base that the lack of reconciliation provides for the AL-Shabaab is mostly found amongst minority groups within Somalia. Groups that have found themselves largely excluded from the power-sharing agreements and who have often suffered the most since the collapse of the state, because of the minorities relative powerlessness against the stronger and more militarized groups. Members of these groups are especially vulnerable to the lure of the al-Shabaab, because they can perceive the Al-Shabaab to be the only real opposition to a government composed of groups and individuals, who have systematically oppressed and victimized these weaker segments of the Somali population. Without a reconciliation process, these past transgression will continue to fuel the conflict in the horn of Africa.

Clan- and interpersonal conflicts

Secondly the lack of reconciliation fuels clan- and interpersonal conflicts in Somalia. The only source of unrest and violence in Somalia isn’t the Al-Shabaab, in fact many attacks and assassinations are falsely attributed to the Al-Shabaab, presumably both intentionally and unintentionally. As mentioned above Somalia is rife with unresolved transgressions with little to no perspective for justice or restitution for the survivors. The same lingering resentments that makes individuals vulnerable to recruitment by the Al-Shabaab also fuels revenge by the wronged, or self-perceived wronged, parties, both continuing and creating new feuds. There is no reason to suspect that this negative pattern will be broken on its own, and this underlines the need for a process of reconciling the population with past and future transgressions.

Legitimizing Government

Thirdly it undermines the efforts of establishing a government that is perceived as legitimate by the population of Somalia. The question of legitimacy has already been raised several times in this article and although legitimacy is complicated issue, in this context it can be reduced to two core components. Firstly, that the governments legitimacy is tied up to its ability to balance the different interests of the population, and secondly that none of the individuals that collectively constitute the government are perceived as criminals or worse. This isn’t a question of pointing fingers, but power, especially in place like Somalia, is undeniably tied to violence, which is one of the reasons why the power-sharing agreements can be perceived as such a failure, since it apparently has awarded the transgressors. It is hard to imagine that a unified Somalia can emerge, even under the best of circumstance, unless there is a reconciliation with the past.

It is naturally far easier to talk about the need of a reconciliation than it will be to achieve it. Part of this is due to the unstable situation in Somalia, and part is due to challenges of implementing and even deciding on the form of the reconciliation process. In terms of form and implementation there can be little doubt that this needs to be decided on – and driven – by the Somali people themselves, if the process is to have any lasting effect. This process could be driven by an independent facilitation committee, composed of “eminent” elders, cultural personalities and academics without any personal political interest. They could then be aided by the “global elders” founded by Nelson Mandela. Achieving such a consensus on individuals from across Somalia will however, obviously, be quite problematic, which brings us to the other essential point of this article, the need for a decentralized approach. While a regional approach hasn’t been the strategy for Somalia by either the international communities nor the Somalis, there are good reasons to adopt this approach for both reconciliation and stabilization. Firstly, a regional approach ensures manageability, it is simply easier to facilitate for a smaller population size within a smaller geographical area as well as empowering regional minority groups. Secondly, this manageability will make it easier to create a democratic legitimacy for both the reconciliation process and for regional governance creation. In fact, it is reasonable to suggest that the bottom-up approach to peace-building will be more fruitful than the top-down aspirations that has been the tendency in the peace-process so far.